Even by the standards of a 13-times champion, Paul Nicholls’s horses are in exceptional form at present and Hermes Allen, a £350,000 purchase to run in Sir Alex Ferguson’s colours after winning an Irish point-to-point, extended the trainer’s record this November to 17 wins from 32 runners with an impressive front-running success in the Grade Two Ballymore Novice Hurdle here on Friday.
Hubrisko, a rare runner for Willie Mullins at Cheltenham’s November meeting, was sent off favourite for the card’s feature event, but while he travelled well enough until the turn for home, the five-year-old could not respond as Hermes Allen skipped further clear in the straight, eventually finishing nine lengths clear of his field.
“He was backward in the summer and didn’t show a lot,” Nicholls said. “He obviously had a big price tag and I was a little bit worried at home, but then he went to Stratford [in mid-October] and won as he did, and Bryony [Frost, his jockey] said, he is a decent horse, he’s just green and babyish.
“Since then he’s just improved and improved, he maturing now and learning our routine. I knew he’d improved massively since his last run but I wanted to see him do that to believe it because it was another step up, and that was a good performance.”
Nicholls’s latest winner, from his only runner on the day, pushed his strike rate for November past 50% ahead of Saturday’s valuable card here, including the Paddy Power Gold Cup, in which he saddles Il Ridoto and Simply The Betts.
“It’s an amazing run,” he said. “The last couple of years we’ve had loads of winners, but I wouldn’t say they’ve been performing like they have this season. We changed the feed this year, which has suited us. I don’t know why but it’s just something that we’ve done. Last year, I was never happy that the horses looked great and we had a spell in the season when they all ran terribly and we never worked out why.
“It could only be one thing in my mind so we changed it, and it’s been the best thing we ever did. There’s other things, we’ve got some fantastic hay that we made this summer, little things like that make a big difference and we’re in a good place at the moment.”
Hermes Allen was cut to a top price of 12-1 third-favourite for the Grade One Ballymore Novice Hurdle at the Festival in March, behind Facile Vega and American Mike, the Irish-trained market leaders, at 4-1 and 5-1 respectively.
Silver can put shine on big-race hat-trick
Sam Thomas has landed Saturday’s most valuable handicap chase for the past two weeks and he has a clear chance to complete a hat-trick – and bank the most valuable prize of his training career – when he saddles Stolen Silver (2.20) in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Thomas’s recent big-race winners at Aintree and Ascot were both returning from their summer break and Stolen Silver also underlined his yard’s knack for getting a horse fit first time up with a win on his seasonal debut last term.
He concluded his first season over fences with an impressive victory over Saturday’s two-and-a-half mile trip at Cheltenham’s April meeting, drawing clear from two out.
The time of that race was strong which means a 7lb rise in the weight looks generous, and while Mouse Morris’s French Dynamite, the likely favourite, has a decent claim on his third place at the Punchestown Festival in April, he has yet to prove himself at Cheltenham.
Cheltenham 1.45 Several potentially top-class two-mile novices go to post for this Grade Two, including Pentland Hills, the 2019 Triumph Hurdle winner, and Monmiral, also a Grade One winner as a juvenile. It is a tough starting point for a chase debutant, though, and while Tommy’s Oscar made a strong start to his chasing career fences at Carlisle last month, he did not seem entirely at home on this track when ninth in last season’s Champion Hurdle. That leaves Joseph O’Brien’s Banbridge, a winner over hurdles at the Festival in March and already off the mark over fences, looking like a better bet at the likely odds.
Lingfield 2.35 Summerghand has had another strong season in top-end handicaps and was a winner at this track and trip on All-Weather Finals day in 2021, so this looks an ideal opportunity for David O’Meara’s gelding to register his first win at Listed level.
Cheltenham 2.55 Shearer has beaten next-time winners in both of his successful starts so far this season, including a novice event at the October meeting here, and Paul Nicholls’s gelding still looks feasibly weighted for this return to handicapping.
Lingfield 3.10 A belated four-year-old and all-weather debut for Bolshoi Ballet, the beaten 13-8 favourite for last year’s Derby, and if Aidan O’Brien has him somewhere close to his best, he may have a touch too much class for Missed The Cut.
Cheltenham 3.30 He has a lengthy absence to overcome but Nickle Back has gone well fresh in the past and looks overpriced at around 14-1 for his handicap debut, not least as the bare form of his 30-length win in a novice at Fontwell last October is backed up by a decent timefigure.